If nothing else, the NBA is about change and adjustment, something the Washington Bullets likely will learn a lot about as they struggle in the early stages of the season with a virtually new squad.
Tonight against the Bucks at the Mecca in Milwaukee, the 0-2 Bullets will seek their first victory. The adjustments will have to continue as the Bullets will be without reserve center Manute Bol. The 7-foot-6 shot blocker remained in Washington to receive therapy for his strained left knee yesterday and today, and will be examined by team physicians Wednesday before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Capital Centre.
The Bucks also are familiar with change. Don Nelson, only the second coach in the franchise's 17-year history, left this summer to become a part-owner of the Golden State Warriors. Nelson, who won 540 games in 11 Milwaukee seasons, has been replaced by his assistant Del Harris, who coached the 1980-81 Houston Rockets into the NBA finals.
That team was led by center Moses Malone, who averaged 27.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Now, Malone has been the only constant for the Bullets in losses to Atlanta and Boston, scoring 64 points and grabbing 25 rebounds.
In scoring, the nearest Bullet to Malone is guard Jeff Malone with 36 points. Terry Catledge is the number two rebounder with 12. Not figures that wins are made of, something that also can be said about the Bullets' interior defense.
In Bol's absence, opponents have feasted on the lack of a consistent shot blocker in the middle. The Celtics scored 58 points on layups and dunks, and that doesn't include free throws after Boston players were fouled driving to the basket.
Not having Bol has also had a detrimental effect on 5-foot-3 rookie point guard Tyrone Bogues. Bogues has averaged 30 minutes in each of the first two games, scoring 20 points on nine-of-19 shooting and passing out 13 assists. But defensively, first Atlanta's 6-3 point guard Glenn Rivers, then Boston's 6-5 duo of Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge were able to work their way down low for easy shots.
"It's something that has hurt us tremendously so far," Coach Kevin Loughery said of Bol's absence.
On the plus side, the fear that there wouldn't be enough basketballs to go around for the two Malones and forward Bernard King has so far been unfounded. In the opening two games, Jeff Malone has taken 37 shots, one more than Moses Malone and six more than King.
Perhaps more important, each man has been willing to sacrifice for the others. King has had 10 assists, making a number of deft passes in close to Moses Malone. In turn, Malone has at times given up low-post positioning to let King work one-on-one.
Early in the game against Boston, Jeff Malone didn't attempt to force the action but he played a prominent role later, scoring six points in the second overtime period of the Bullets' 140-139 loss.
"We are still taking a look at our personnel," said Loughery. "The guys are starting to get a feel for each other."
Besides Harris, the Bucks are getting adjusted to a number of changes. The team has moved 6-9 Terry Cummings from power forward to small forward and has matched him on the front line with 6-11 Jack Sikma and 7-3 Randy Breuer. Ricky Pierce, the NBA's sixth man of the year last season, has still not joined the team, holding out in a contract dispute.
Celtics 96, Knicks 87:
A 13-2 push at the start of the second half gave the visiting Celtics (3-0) a 67-42 lead and the Knicks (0-3) were too far behind to catch up. New York shot 39 percent in the first half, then missed seven of its first eight shots in the third quarter.
Still, with Patrick Ewing scoring 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, New York got as close as 87-80. Then, a three-point play by Danny Ainge with 1:47 to go built the margin to 90-80.